Growing in Community
Have you ever thought about how people grow? Babies start life just able to cry and eat. Within a year-and-a-half they are walking and talking. How is it possible? It is a miracle that most of us pay little attention to. Babies grow because they eat and they learn because those who take care of them teach them many things. Their physical and mental growth continues for many years until finally they are adults. When they become adults, we say that they are mature.
In lesson 2 we learned about Jesus’ command to witness. In order to witness effectively, we must develop spiritually. In this lesson you will study how to become spiritually mature. Some people remain baby Christians after many years. This is not God’s plan. God wants us to become mature. He wants us to grow spiritually tall, “reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature” (Ephesians 4:13). Then we will be able to grow in community with others.
Ways to Grow
Know the Scriptures
The Sadducees came to Jesus one day with a story they had made up. They said a certain woman married a man and he died. Then she married his brother, but he died too. This happened seven times. The Sadducees then asked Jesus whose wife this woman would be in heaven (Matthew 22: 28).
The Sadducees invented this story to test Jesus. They did not believe in the resurrection. They wanted Jesus to say something against their beliefs so they could simply reject His teaching and feel good about doing so.
However, instead of answering the Sadducees, Jesus went to the root of the problem. He exposed their lack of understanding of the Scriptures. “How wrong you are! It is because you don’t know the Scriptures or God’s power” (Matthew 22:29). Notice the order Jesus used. He put knowledge of the Scriptures first, and God’s power second.
There is much to learn here. People seem to have a great desire for God’s power, but there is not a great desire to know the Scriptures. This is like putting the plow before the ox. It will not work. Do you want to have the power of God in your life? Then you must know and live by the teachings of the Scriptures.
The apostle Peter said, “Be like newborn babies, always thirsty for the pure spiritual milk, so that by drinking it you may grow up” (1 Peter 2:2). Just as it is necessary for babies to eat in order to grow and be healthy, we must feed on God’s Word to become mature, healthy Christians.
Psalm 119 has 176 verses. In almost all of these verses, the Scriptures are mentioned in one way or another. Among other things, these verses show the Word to be our defense against sin, our guide, our wisdom, and our joy.
If reading the Word of God is not a regular part of your life, you can ask the Lord to help you have the wisdom to read and understand the Scriptures. Sometimes we don’t do what we should just because we lack discipline. There are certain things that only God can do for me. There are other things that I must do for myself. For example, when it comes to daily prayer and Bible reading, I have to take the authority over myself and do it. This calls for an act of my will. No one is ever going to force me to do it. I must make myself do it. And as I begin to read the Word daily, I will experience the joy and satisfaction and growth that it brings.
Babies only grow as they receive proper milk and food from their parents. It is the same in the life of the believer. If you expect to grow in the Lord you have to let Him feed you. He feeds you through His Word. Plan a regular time each day for this purpose, just as you plan a regular time to eat every day. The Holy Spirit will help you understand what you read, and you will grow in the Lord.
Think About the Lord
Another aid to Christian growth is prayer and meditation, or thinking about the Lord. We need to train ourselves to think about God. We need to think about His Word, about yesterday’s sermon, and about the things He has done for us. The apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:8, tells us to fill our minds with “things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.” We have a promise in Isaiah that God will keep us in perfect peace if we keep our minds on Him (Isaiah 26:3, AV). Thinking about the Lord makes our faith in Him grow.
We also need to pray that God will teach us His ways and direct our paths. He wants us to pray for a better understanding of His Word. We are instructed in Philippians 4:6 to ask God for what we need. And we read in Ephesians 6:18 to “Pray always for all God’s people.” When we pray for other Christians, we are showing the spirit of community towards them. We should also pray for those who don’t know Christ, that they may be drawn to Him. When we pray for unbelievers, we have the spirit of community in a broader sense.
Be Ruled by Christian Love
God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites as one of the earliest sets of rules for true community living (Exodus 20). The Ten Commandments deal with relationships between God and people, and with relationships between people. Everything the Israelites did had to be compared to these laws. Not one of them was to be disobeyed. However, Israelites found it very difficult to follow these rules.
God saw that the people who received these commandments were not strong enough to obey them. That is why He sent Jesus Christ. Read Romans 8:3 and Galatians 4:4-5. These verses show the mercy of God and His desire to have perfect communion (community) with humankind. People’s relationships with others are improved when they have the right kind of relationship with God.
When I was young, I was assigned to work with an older man who was an expert in his work. But he was not an easy person to work with. I decided I would treat him with love no matter how badly he treated me. When he saw that his unpleasant way did not affect me, he changed his attitude toward me. He responded to my love. From him I learned many valuable lessons that still help me today. One of them was that no one can resist an attitude of love and concern.
When we accept Christ as our Lord, a change takes place in our lives. There is a different view of God, the Bible, and other people. Jesus does for us what the Ten Commandments, the Law, could not do. We become new beings when we enter into community with Him (2 Corinthians 5: 17). He writes His law of love on our human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3). This means that a law of love has replaced the old Law. We want to obey Him because we love Him. His law of love rules our relationships with other people. Our conscience is made clean and our mind is renewed. Now we do by nature the things that are commanded by the Law. This is a wonderful way to live.
Has someone treated you badly since you became a Christian? Did you feel angry? If you allowed God’s love to fill your heart, you were able to forgive the one who mistreated you. If you are a Christian, the power of God has changed your nature. His law of love becomes your rule of life and behavior. This is the way to have a spirit of community!
Worship with Others
Worshiping with other Christians will help you grow. We need to meet together to study God’s Word. Regular church attendance and teaching build us up in the Lord. Sharing with others their problems and joys, and having them share ours, is a great help. A basic principle of community is that we need each other. We need to spend time with others who know and love the Lord as we do. Do you meet together with other Christians? Do you share in what they are doing? Do you share their joy when they are happy, and encourage them when they are sad? If you do, you are showing the spirit of community and love in its fullest sense.
Principles for Growth
As we mature in our Christian walk through studying God’s Word, praying, thinking about God, worshiping Him, and loving others, God leads us into a life of holiness. The Bible sometimes speaks of this as being separated. The New Testament talks about two sides of separation. One is separation unto God, and the other is separation from the world. Both are very important.
Separation Unto God
God is calling you to be separated unto Himself. He wants you to be dedicated, set apart for His use. Romans 12:1 says, “Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him.” This is the positive side of separation. Look at Acts 13:2: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul, to do the work to which I have called them.” Also read Romans 1:1. In the King James translation of the Bible we read, “Paul . . . separated unto the gospel of God.” Again, we notice that the separation was unto God. Separation unto God calls for total dedication or commitment to Him, so that He can help us to live holy, Christ-like lives.
Separation From the World
In 2 Corinthians 6:14 we read, “Do not try to work together as equals with unbelievers, for it cannot be done. How can right and wrong be partners? How can light and darkness live together?” Here the message is that true partnership (community) cannot exist between a believer and an unbeliever. There is little basis for the spirit of community between Christians and unbelievers.
Notice the words “work together as equals,” “partners,” and “live together.” These words are the same ones used in the meaning of community in Lesson 1. This verse tells us not to enter into these kinds of relationships with unbelievers. It is talking about close relationships such as marriage or joining together to make money. It is not talking about daily contacts in the world.
We are often with people who have no faith in God. That is where God wants us. These people are the ones we are to win to Him. The secret in being a child of God in a wicked world is knowing God. You must allow the Holy Spirit to rule your life. You must have so much of God in you that every person knows it. You won’t even have to tell them. You are living in the world, but you are a citizen of heaven. You can be with unbelievers, but you must not be like them!
A man named George saw something different in the life of his new neighbor. He asked what it was. The neighbor said that he had asked Jesus to be his Lord. Soon George gave his life to Christ, because of his neighbor’s witness. George went to visit his mother in another town. She asked, “What has happened to you?” He told her about Jesus, and soon she, too, accepted the Lord as her Savior. They were both filled with the Holy Spirit. George’s problems hadn’t disappeared, but George had changed! When his mother saw the difference in him, she wanted what George had. Because George’s neighbor was separated unto God and from the world, two lives were changed!
Tolerance and Moderation
It is sometimes difficult for Christians to know the standards of behavior they should have. We should let the Bible be our guide in areas where it gives specific direction, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in other areas.
Some Christians say that we are no longer under the Law, so we are free to live according to our own standards. Others have a more legalistic attitude. That is, they try to gain favor with God by the things they do or don’t do. They try to make themselves acceptable to God by following a list of rules, rather than by faith in Christ. Either of these positions can be dangerous. Christianity is not a set of rules that one must follow. It is receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and allowing Him to become Lord of our lives. Jesus Himself said: Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them but to make their teachings come true (Matthew 5:17).
When Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives, we want to do those things which are pleasing to Him. We do not want to do those things that would harm our Christian testimony. We are not bound by legalistic rules, nor do we feel that the grace of Christ permits us to do whatever pleases us. Christ’s law of love helps us to practice moderation or balance in our standards of behavior.
God deals with us as individuals. He knows what we need. He will help us to be moderate, or have balance, in our Christian behavior.
Since God does deal with us as individuals, we must be careful not to judge others by our own standards. An explanation is found in Romans chapters 14 and 15, in relationship to eating certain foods and honoring certain days. However, the principles taught in these chapters apply to any other questionable areas of our lives. Here are some of these principles:
“Let us stop judging one another. Instead, you should decide never to do anything that would make your brother stumble or fall into sin” (Romans 14:13).
“We must always aim at those things that bring peace and that help strengthen one another” (Romans 14:19).
“The right thing to do is to keep from eating meat, drinking wine, or doing anything else that will make your brother fail. Keep what you believe about this matter, then, between yourself and God” (Romans 14:21-22).
“Accept one another, then, for the glory of God, as Christ has accepted you” (Romans 15:7).
These passages of Scripture make it very clear that we should be tolerant towards others whose standards of behavior are different from ours. To be tolerant means to be patient and accepting of others even when we are not in complete agreement with them.
God knows how to deal with us as individual people. He deals with us on a personal basis. He does this because He is bringing us into a closer relationship with Himself. He knows the areas in which we need help. He may require one thing of you, and something entirely different of another person. He can impress us to do certain things, and He can also impress us not to do other things. We should not try to make everyone do exactly as we feel God is telling us to do. We must accept other Christians as they are and expect God to lead them. We must be tolerant.
Jesus said that “God will judge you in the same way you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others” (Matthew 7:2). Therefore, it is not wise to be harsh or critical in our judgment of others. Tolerance toward others is an example of the law of love and is present wherever there is a spirit of community.